Why a smaller board will help your SUP surfing

This article was originally published by our friends at SUP Magazine. Words by Jack Haworth.

My first board was a clunker. Plain and simple.

It was an 11-foot hand-me-down from the early days of our sport. It wasn't fast, it didn't turn easily and it was very heavy. Nevertheless, it was perfect for mastering the basics, like cruising around a harbor, surfing small waves and, perhaps most importantly, learning how to pivot turn.

This clunker taught me the fundamentals, but before long I began to feel like I'd plateaued in the confines of my equipment. I was ready for the next step.

Crank more turns like this. Photo: Aaron Black-Schmidt

It was time to upgrade my sled. While big touring boards are great for learning, they're not so good in big waves, rapids or races. With the goal of becoming a better standup paddle surfer, I needed a board better shaped to accommodate my progression. My first step was to step down — less length, less width, less volume … but how much?

I knew I needed something leaner, but I also knew I’d sink straight into the drink if I went too small. The 6-foot-something SUP shortboards the pros surf were way out of my league. A shorter board will give you more maneuverability, but if you go too short you’ll barely be able to stand. I needed something in between.

After some research, I found my second board: a 8’9″ x 32″ Fanatic SUP surf shape with a bulky volume of 145 liters.

Smaller boards will open up a whole new realm of possibilities for you. Photo: Aaron Black-Schmidt

As a beginner, SUP surfing a board under 9 feet sounded intimidating. However, the extended width and volume made the board extremely stable. The first time I paddled it out was revolutionary. Where I felt idle in my progress on the clunky 11-footer, my new board offered endless opportunity for me to expand my skill.

The stability was a welcome surprise, and the shorter length allowed me to carve tighter turns with less effort. After only a few times on the new board, I improved dramatically and was riding waves that I previously wouldn’t have dared to paddle into.

I was catching more waves, getting better rides and having a blast.

Instead of going SUP surfing only when the waves were knee high or below, having a smaller board allowed me to paddle out when the waves were bigger. Of course, this meant more time in the water and an exponential improvement in my ability.

Twelve o’clock turns are no longer out of reach. Photo: Aaron Black-Schmidt

Only now am I beginning to discover the true possibilities and appeal of SUP surfing. Paddling into a large open face, digging the paddle to crank a tight turn, or slotting into a juicy barrel are all experiences that leave you with a big, goofy smile on your face. And with the right equipment to match your skill level, they’re totally attainable.

If you think you’re ready for a more progressive board, we suggest sampling a few different models before making your final decision. Borrow friends’ boards or go to demo zones at major events such as Pacific Paddle Games. This is the best way to ensure your investment results in the right board for you.

Changing boards can be intimidating and expensive, but after a few good rides you’ll agree the reward is well worth the price. Set yourself up for success and find the board that’s right for you.

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